My First Eating Disorder Hospitalization
Two years ago this month I was first hospitalized for an eating disorder. One year ago I was hospitalized again for my eating disorder. After the second hospitalization landed on nearly the exact same day, I was sure it was just like clockwork. It was fate, how things were. In mid-March each year, I was to be hospitalized. I would get sicker and sicker as the year went on until I hit the final point of being unable to function in the real world. This year is my first year eating disorder free since 2018. This is my first year since my disorder of feeling freedom instead of dread. It’s my first year being genuinely happy with my friends and family instead of faking joy. I finally just had my first carefree Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years with my family. For the first time in years, my life is mine again.
In order to truly acknowledge the accomplishment of this, I need to look back into the past.
I remember my first hospitalization. I told the story leading up to it in one of my previous posts (link at the bottom). It was scary, terrifying even. My parents and I had to wait a couple of hours for a bed to open up for me, so the anticipation was mortifying. I cried and begged my parents to at least let me wait at home, but they were scared that I’d bolt or refuse to come back. I told them that I’d change, that I could change if they just gave me one more chance. They knew that if I could change at home, I would’ve done it sooner. In my heart, I knew that too. I called my sister and brother and told them that I loved them forever.
The hospital hustled to get the room ready because the doctor was sure that my heart would give out if they didn’t get me a room soon enough. I remember walking into the hospital for the first time. It was decorated cutely, with animals on the walls and indoor play structures.
It felt somewhat relieved to be walking into a place that looked a little bit like how I remembered my childhood to be. I was grasping for any little sense of comfort or joy. Masks weren’t a requirement yet, so that wasn’t an issue. I was crying as soon as I got in and looked like an absolute wreck.
They directed us to the third floor, the ones for miscellaneous cases like eating disorders, suicide attempts, unknown issues, and more. That floor wasn’t as cute, but still pretty bright and cheery for a hospital. I pleaded with my parents all the way up. I’d like to say that that was the first time I’d ever seen them cry, but I can’t. They cried plenty throughout my eating disorder. They cried when they begged me to eat. They cried for me when they watched me suffer. They cried in the shower, in bed, at the kitchen table, whenever and wherever necessary. It hurt me to know I was hurting them so much. It hurt me that I was unable to stop my compulsion and my parents now had to drop their last daughter off at a hospital thanks to her own doing.
The first night in the hospital was probably one of the worst nights of my entire life. Before my parents left, the nurse at the hospital gave me MANY rules to follow. I was to be on strict bedrest. I couldn’t stand, walk, or even move too much in my bed. My back had to be supported by the bed, so there was no sitting up. I had to use the call button to get someone to assist me in the bathroom (that sure did take a toll on my pride). Someone had to be with me, watching me at all times. They called them “sitters' ' which is exactly what they were.
They were nurses that would sit in my room to watch me. Some were better than others. Some sitters wouldn’t ever look away from me, even if it would avoid awkwardness. They’d just stare and stare at me. It was weird because there were only the two of us in that whole room. Later though, they replaced real sitters with someone behind a camera in my room. The camera had a booming speaker and would yell at me every time I broke a rule.
I had to eat every last crumb on my plate. If I didn't, I had to drink this super-dense shake called Boost to make up for the missing calories. If I wouldn’t drink that, a feeding tube would be placed up my nose. The nurse made no attempts to make the rules a little bit less scary. She wrote on the whiteboard in front of my bed “If you fail to comply with food rules, a feeding tube WILL be placed.” so that was something I got to look at on a daily basis. I had 30 minutes to finish snacks and 40 for meals. Everything was served in plastic and styrofoam bowls and plates, which made everything feel even weirder.
I couldn’t use the bathroom an hour after eating and my pee was to be measured in a cup to examine. I wasn’t allowed to pick my own snacks or meals, which is the rule I disagree with the most. If I had to eat, I would rather have had the choice to decide what I had to eat. That would’ve made things a lot less painful because I really did get some pretty nasty foods that I still had to try to eat. I was allowed to have my phone, which was the biggest relief of my life. Rounds would be done on me every couple of hours to check my pulse, heart rate, blood sugar, all that good stuff. I had to be weighed each morning. I was only allowed to step on the scale backward so I couldn’t see the number.
The nurse gave me a light-yellow blanket with little sheep on it that night to “match my nails''. I had just gotten a pedicure the week before for finishing a whole meal, so I had gel done. I was super cold because I was only allowed to wear a light hospital gown so they could have easy access to my cords. They hooked me up to a heart monitor and some other huge machines. My parents went home that night. My first sitter was an African-American man, who didn’t seem to know much English. He must’ve been an intern because he didn’t seem to know what to do with me that whole night. I cried all night and he kept asking me why, as if he couldn’t just read my charts and look that up for himself. He had a bright monitor on all night, blinding me so I couldn’t get any sleep. The worst part about it was probably the fact that he was a man. It was uncomfortable for my first sitter in this strange, unknown place to be a man. I called my dad in the middle of the night, super terrified. He told me everything would be fine; he’ll be there first thing in the morning. My eyes were crusty from crying and I couldn’t sleep because of the light. I tried reading to get through the night, but the words went right through me as if I wasn’t even reading them. I just wanted this whole situation to go away, or better yet, for me to go away.
I finally had fallen asleep for about an hour when someone came in to get my blood at 6 AM. I was super confused about what was going on. I’d had my blood drawn many times before from my doctor, but not this early. Someone came in later to weigh me. Then my first meal at the hospital came, which was breakfast. I was super surprised at the quantities of food. Looking back, it actually was a pretty normal amount, but compared to what I had been eating before hospitalization, it was like a feast. Eating was extremely hard for me to do, especially with someone staring at me.
I had already developed an irrational fear of eating in front of others, including my own family, but now I had to do it in front of a complete stranger? I put on “The Office” for a distraction (back when it was on Netflix, am I right?) and did everything in my power to will myself to eat. I couldn’t finish, although I got nearly half of it down.
They gave me the Boost. I’d had Boost lots before, assigned by my dietitian back at home. It was hard to get it down too. I did NOT want to be there eating that. What would happen to me? Would I gain a bunch of weight and walk out of there not even looking like myself? Would I “lose the control” that ED allowed me to have? Would this “fix me” and allow me to just be average? I did NOT want to find out. I very painfully finished the shake, mostly because I was afraid of the feeding tube.
I remember feeling as if I was going to throw up nearly every time I ate. Partly with the guilt I felt around eating and partly because my stomach had shrunk so much that it couldn't hold much food. The feeling of being bloated is bad enough, but it’s worse when you can only sit there and wait for it to go away. I couldn’t move to settle it even a little bit, so usually by the next meal or snack, I was still super full. Each bite was painful and gave me an overwhelming sense of fear. Each meal left me with a feeling of guilt and shame.
There was this one time that I had gotten the meanest nurse I’d ever met. She gave me my meal, which I nearly finished but had to ask for the shake. Even though I finished over half of it, she gave me two full cups of Boost. That was the thing with different nurses. Depending on how they were feeling, how strict they were, or their opinions of you, that would determine your treatment. Some would make eye contact when I tried to use the bathroom just to show that they had the authority. This nurse looked at me mockingly and would oftentimes be extra strict on rules, even when it wasn’t necessary. I could tell that she was one of the nurses that thought my eating disorder was stupid. I drank that Boost but quickly felt a queasy feeling in my stomach. It felt like I was going to literally explode. I called the mean nurse in to let me use the bathroom, but she said no. By this point I was absolutely crying, it hurt so unbelievably bad. She finally let me up, but before I could reach the toilet, I vomited everywhere. Immediately afterward, she said I might have to get the tube to make up for the lost food. My doctor said I wouldn’t need that though.
Each day contained a small number of activities. Reading, drawing, homework, scrolling through TikTok, watching TV, getting rounds, therapy appointments, and crying. I had a school teacher to help me get my homework done and he would come in when I asked. There were even a couple of college volunteers that came in to paint with me. There was a music therapist that came into my room a couple of times to teach me how to play the ukulele. I may have finally felt noticed by people, but I certainly wasn’t happy. Everyone did everything they could to make this a happy place, but it was still lonely and dehumanizing. I called my parents often throughout the day, begging them to take me home. There was no set day for when I’d get to leave, not even a clue. It was when my labs and heart rate got back to normal and stabilized, which took longer than you’d guess. I wasn’t allowed to shower the first few days. The only two places that I’d be all day were the hospital bed and the bathroom. No joke. That was it.
I was so lonely all day. All I wanted was for my parents to take me home. I waited all day for them to come to see me at the end of the day. I was missing school, but not falling behind in my classes. I was falling behind socially as my friends became closer and closer to one another without me.
Although I was lonely, I had a couple nurses that I was super close with. There was one sweet nurse. She would always come in with a bright smile and tell me that I was her favorite patient. I had some safe nurses there that I bonded with and would talk to me while I was eating to distract me. Even though I was miserable, almost every nurse would tell my parents that I was a ray of sunshine, still cracking jokes and smiling.
My parents came every night after work, sometimes one, sometimes both. We had family therapy sometimes with the social worker. It usually ended with arguing about going home. Each time a new nurse would walk in to treat me, I’d have the same question. “So when do I get to go home?” I was hyper focused on getting home rather than getting better and that’s what I spent all of my free time thinking about.
I do remember feeling a sense of relief among the misery. I finally didn’t have to obsess over every morsel of food that went into my body. I didn’t need to coach myself to take even the smallest bite. I now ate out of fear, rather than restricting out of fear. My mind was finally at ease and my body was feeling more energized.
As the days went on, I got a couple more privileges, still not nearly enough to feel even remotely normal. I was able to take a 10-minute seated shower at first. Then I was able to sit in a different chair for 15 minutes. Wow, crazy right? I could take a standing shower after that. Eventually, I got two wheelchair laps around the floor and finally, I got to take two walking laps. The walking laps felt like such a relief. My legs would cramp terribly from sitting in the same position so long, to a point where I felt like they would just fall right off.
I never felt like I necessarily needed the bedrest. My body felt fine, it just wasn’t doing fine. It was hard sitting in bed knowing that I felt healthy enough to run a marathon, even if I wasn’t. I was actually so malnourished that I couldn’t even think straight.
My siblings came in to visit. I don’t think they’ve ever understood my disorder, but they sure were amazing to have taken the time to visit me. I was embarrassed for myself though. It felt powerless to not even be able to stand up. I often felt below everyone else’s level in society while on bedrest. I didn’t allow many other visitors, no matter how much my mom asked me. No one could know about my illness. It was an embarrassment. The thing that I told everyone that I had under control was actually not under control.
Seven days after getting hospitalized, I finally had the okay to leave. The doctor met with my parents and I. At first, hearing that I could leave, I was psyched. My parents went into immediate fear. They didn’t want me to come home and live in as much misery as I was before.
Then the doctor kept talking. She said that I wouldn’t make it if I went straight home and that I wasn’t ready yet. She recommended an eating disorder inpatient facility. We were all scared to say no to a doctor’s recommendation, and it was obvious that I wouldn’t make it at home. My heart broke hearing that. I begged and cried until I couldn’t breathe. I was so angry and hurt. I was scared to be at a real treatment center, not just a children’s hospital. The doctor and my parents made a plan to transport me to inpatient the next day. My first thought was about my dog. What about my dog? I didn’t even get to say goodbye to her. I didn’t know that the last time I would be seeing my dog, my bedroom, friends, and so much more would be the day I left for the hospital. I wasn’t allowed to go home first because my treatment team was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to part with my house.
I did indeed end up leaving the next day. My mom and I cried all the way to the inpatient hospital. She told me everything would be okay, that she’d come to visit me every day.
Little did we both know, COVID wouldn’t allow that.
Thanks for reading this post and I hope that it was able to show the reality of hospitalization. Eating disorders aren't glamorous, they're a disease.
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By: Ardie N.